Stefonek search

Search crews on Saturday found a human skull in a wooded area of Mount Brynion where 29-year-old Sam Stefonek of Kelso disappeared in 2010, a Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Monday.

Courtesy of Cowlitz County Sheriff's Department

A skull found in Kelso’s Mount Brynion area last weekend has been identified as that of 29-year-old Sam Stefonek, who disappeared more than two years ago, the Cowlitz County coroner’s office said Friday.

The coroner’s office and the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Person Unit used dental records to identify the skull, Coroner Tim Davidson said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

The skull showed no sign of trauma, and the cause of Stefonek’s death remains a mystery, Davidson said.

“It’s still a big question mark because there is just the skull,” he said. “But at least it gives the family some closure from wondering where he is or (if) he’s hiding out somewhere.”

Stefonek’s family could not immediately be reached Friday evening.

Stefonek, of Kelso, disappeared Aug. 8, 2010. Authorities said he argued with his girlfriend, then fled into the woods behind his parents’ home in the 3400 block of Mount Brynion Rd. His cellphone was later found nearby, but for more than two years there was no sign of Stefonek.

Search crews coordinated by the sheriff’s office and Cowlitz County Search and Rescue scoured the area to no avail on multiple occasions. About 40 volunteers returned to the area Saturday to get one more search in before new spring growth carpeted the heavily wooded area with a thick layer of ground cover.

Dogs trained to find cadavers led searchers to the skull late Saturday morning, authorities said. No other bones were found, although an article of clothing was recovered not far away.

Cowlitz County sheriff’s spokesman Charlie Rosenzweig said Friday that investigators will have a hard time determining how Stefonek died unless more of his remains are found.

“Certainly if we find the rest of his skeleton, then we’ll probably be able to determine a lot more,” Rosenzweig said.

The next step, he said, will be to launch another search party in the area, although it’s unclear when that would happen.

Rosenzweig said the skull’s discovery — and the absence of obvious signs of foul play — quell, at least for now, a deluge of wild tips about Stefonek’s death.

“We have been inundated over the years with rumors and stories about how somebody killed him or other speculation on how he died,” Rosenzweig said. “We put a lot of man hours in trying to track those things down.

“This, of course, gives us a huge relief that those are just highly unlikely stories.”

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